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Alumni profile - Laura Kariuki

Talk about instant success. Theatre alumna Laura Kariuki landed a big role in a major series before the president’s signature was dry on her college diploma.

Kariuki started auditioning for what would become her first professional role in late October of 2020, just a few months after graduation, as J.J. Stewart in the “electrical superhero” CW series “Black Lightning.” Although that series was winding down toward its finale, she started concurrently working on an even bigger role, as Kim Williams in the hit ABC reboot of “The Wonder Years.” Luckily, both productions were filming in Atlanta, which has quickly become the next Hollywood for film studios.

“That was the busiest time of my life,” she recalled. “I would be in my ‘Black Lightning’ character, then had to completely transform into my ‘Wonder Years’ character on the same day.”

Yet it was a role she was not going to let pass her by. Kariuki remembers reading the “Wonder Years” script for the first time right around January 2021.

“I was reading it and thinking, ‘I’ve got to get onto this.’ I loved the characters. They were so smart and complex, very well-written. And it hits on so many important social issues,” she said.

She auditioned and went through two rounds of callbacks in late winter. A couple weeks later, she got the news she dreamed of hearing.

“Happy tears. That’s all I can say,” she said.

Kariuki is a born entertainer. She was born in Iowa then moved to Lenexa, Kansas, near Kansas City, when she was about 8 years old.

“When I was younger, I loved putting on little plays for my parents. There are tons of videos out there of me doing my silly shows,” she said.

Kariuki started taking classes at a community theater in about the third grade, then performed in her first show in the fourth grade — the junior version of “Once on this Island.” She did the junior version of “Into the Woods” the following year.

She sang in choir through high school, but gravitated more into acting over her high school years. She counts Patina Miller as one of her inspirations, especially for her work on “Pippin” the musical.


“I wanted to be a doctor for the longest time. Right around my sophomore or junior year I said ‘Wait, I think I can do this for a career and not just a hobby,’” she said.

She chose Oklahoma City University over a few other colleges. Her first time to the city was for Stars 101 right before freshman year began. She spent her first semester doing Out of the Box productions, and in the second semester was cast in the chorus for “House of Atreus.”

She started out being more into musical theater, then shifted her interest into theatre acting as her college days progressed.

Kristen Cerelli was her favorite professor, and head of performance Lance Marsh taught some of her favorite classes - Chekhov and Shakespeare. Marsh took a group of OCU students, including Kariuki, to China in 2019 as the only school from the U.S. to participate in the International Theatre Festival.

"I remember when Laura walked out of her first mainstage audition, guest director Leslie Swackhamer and I turned to each other and said, ‘She's going to be a star’ at exactly the same time," Marsh said.

Just before finishing her senior year, COVID hit.

“I remember that last day of school before lockdown and we knew what was going to happen. It was right before spring break,” Kariuki said. “We were in rehearsals for ‘Trojan Women.’ We were so bummed we couldn’t come back and do the show.”

Marsh has similar sentiments.

"One of my greatest regrets about the onset of COVID and the cancelation of our production was that no audiences would get to see the raw, emotional and brilliant work that Laura was doing in the play," he said.

But there would come a silver lining. Kariuki auditioned and was accepted for both the New York and Los Angeles annual showcases. Instead of taking the in-person trips, the actors recorded and uploaded their audition tapes to a website for agents to review. The online platform meant more reviewers could see their work.

“That’s how I got my current agent. He started sending me to auditions in late summer and I was booked on ‘Black Lightning’ in November,” she said.

Kariuki worked as a teacher at the Oklahoma Children’s Theater throughout college, including that summer before her big move into show business. She and some friends had been looking for an apartment to share in New York City. A couple weeks after their search commenced, she learned of her booking on “Black Lightning.” It was on to Atlanta instead.

Kariuki recalls fond memories of her time at OCU, along with the lessons she learned that helped her carve a path to a successful career right out of graduation.

“So glad I went to OCU. I had an amazing experience,” she said. “It’s where I met my best friends and learned so, so much.”


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